It was 4 years ago that our management team first visited the Philippines to explore the possibility of creating a new production site to support our operations in Sri Lanka, India, and Brazil. When we saw the huge potential this country had to offer not only in available raw material – the Philippines is the second-largest producer of coconut behind Indonesia – but also with its proximity to China and other emerging Asia-Pacific markets, it was clear we’d found the right location. We also became involved early on with an NGO that was doing great work to promote the valorization of the coconut husk and create employment in the local economy. This valuable partnership continues to grow and develop every day.
The Philippines is of course not without its challenges, whether that’s geopolitical, administrative, or climatic, which have already resulted in several of our well-known competitors trying and failing here. And of course, since the beginning of 2020, there has also been the global Covid-19 pandemic to contend with. Clément JACQUOT, the director of BIOGROW Philippines, arrived in the country at the end of 2019 after spending a number of years working with BIOGROW in Sri Lanka and preparing the incorporation of the new structure in the Philippines. In spite of these challenges, he remained optimistic right from the start that everything would eventually fall into place if we were to aim for realistic targets and work in partnership with local communities and businesses. It was just a question of time and patience.
The first 6 months were spent looking for the right location for the factory. Eventually, we came across a perfect site, which was close to numerous coconut groves and had good transport access, and most importantly favorable weather! We had found a former coconut oil mill, which had been closed down for the last 20 years, and we saw this acquisition as a unique opportunity to bring back to life this industrial estate as well as to create jobs in this (still) very agricultural part of the country. After acquiring the land in the second half of 2020, we quickly started renovating and reconnecting the electrical lines to begin further construction and machine installation. In parallel, we had to register our company with the relevant local administrative and government agencies. Starting in a new country as a foreign investor can be a long and arduous process. That being said, the Philippines have been trying to ease this process for the past few years, and with the help of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, we managed to navigate our way through it successfully.
At the beginning of 2021, the first building permits were granted, at the same time the electricity was finally connected, and our machines started to be delivered from abroad. From here on in, the team began to grow as we started recruiting and training staff to work in what is an entirely new industry for most of them. By April we started production with our first operational chipping mill, and every new machine installed thereafter created new jobs at the plant. Alongside all of this activity, the work we had started 2 years earlier with our local NGO began to take shape as well. Following a number of events to promote the coconut husk valorization program many local cooperatives had agreed to join our sustainable development program and after a short period of training were soon supplying or transforming coconut husks. For this purpose, we also started to work on the construction of a dedicated training center, which would offer the unique chance to practice a large-scale technology and knowledge transfer to boost the local economy and valorize the hundreds of millions of husks produced in the region every year. With the target to work directly with 3000-5000 coconut farmers, we believe we can play an important part in reducing poverty in the region while creating a new and resilient husk transformation economy at the regional level.
By August our first trial container was finished and exported thanks to the great efforts and dedication of our team, marking a big milestone for the factory. Now, 9 months into 2021, and despite the continuing pandemic with lockdowns and ever-changing rules, we have completed most of the construction and production is running continuously. We still have a long way ahead of us to reach our full capacity and full potential, but with the launch of this new production site, we are more confident than ever that our clients all over the globe will always be supplied with the best quality substrates on the market despite all the logistical challenges and difficulties brought by Covid-19.